The R nineT Urban G/S is a tribute to BMW’s most important ever model, and arguably the most influential bike of recent decades. When the R80 G/S – standing for Gelände/Strasse, or Off-road/Street – was launched in 1980, BMW was considering abandoning not only its traditional flat-twin engine but its whole motorcycle division. The G/S was an unexpected hit. It led to four Paris-Dakar Rally victories, saved the boxer layout, sparked the explosion of large-capacity dual-purpose bikes and triggered BMW’s R1200GS-led expansion.
The Urban G/S’s more immediate history dates back to 2014 and the launch of the R nineT, a classy retro-roadster whose air-cooled, 1170cc boxer motor had powered the R1200GS before that model’s move to liquid-cooling. Popular despite its high price, that R nineT has since been followed by four slightly less high-spec variants: basic Pure, sporty Racer, dual-purpose Scrambler, and R80-inspired Urban G/S.
The Urban G/S uses the same DOHC, 110bhp boxer motor as the other R nineT models. Its steel-framed chassis is borrowed from the nineT Scrambler, so combines a 19-inch front wheel with 17-inch rear rather than having 17s at each end like the others. Key differences from the Scrambler are the Urban’s R80 G/S-style headlamp surround and high-level front mudguard, plus trademark white with two-tone blue paintwork, and red seat.
Appropriately for a tribute to the R80 G/S, whose 798cc engine made just 37bhp, the Urban is relatively simple and light, with a wide one-piece handlebar, single round speedometer and just one riding mode. Despite the dual-purpose look, suspension travel is limited to typical road-bike levels, which helps keep the seat reasonably low.
The key to the appeal of all the nineT models is their blend of torquey, rider-friendly power delivery, accessible flat-twin character and fairly light yet stable handling. The air-cooled motor pulls strongly from low revs and has enough power to let the G/S cruise fairly smoothly at 80mph, with acceleration in hand to a top speed of about 120mph. Wind pressure adds to the impression of speed because the headlamp surround adds more style than protection.
Chassis performance is very capable; at least on the road with street tyres fitted. The Urban G/S can’t match the sharpness of the standard R nineT, with its firmer and more sophisticated suspension, but is sufficiently well-damped to corner confidently despite its 19-inch front wheel, helped by leverage from the broad handlebar. It’s not designed for off-roading but will cope with a gentle dirt excursion, ideally when wearing the knobblier tyres that are a no-cost option.
The Urban G/S delivers both as a two-wheeled tribute and as an enjoyably lively, versatile machine with an abundance of flat-twin character. It looks the part and has sufficient pace and poise to make a useful all-rounder. Its back-to-basics boxer charm is accentuated by the exhaust note, which combines a deep growl under acceleration with a sharper bark as the throttle is blipped for down-changes.
Like its R nineT siblings, the Urban G/S has been designed to encourage customising. Its rear subframe is easily removable; extras range from retro cylinder head covers and racing number plates to soft luggage. Wire-spoked wheels are available to enhance off-road potential and are fitted as standard to the Urban G/S X variant, along with heated grips and other extras. Even the X-model won’t inspire another Dakar victory, but the Urban G/S does a fine job of honouring the icon on which BMW’s current success is based.
Price tag of our bike: £10,650 (Urban G/S X: £11,365)